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Peru on its way to becoming leader in blueberry exports

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

Chile is currently the main exporter in South America, but that could change over the next few years.

Peru on its way to becoming leader in blueberry exports

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Blueberries (arándanos in Spanish) are becoming Peru’s prime berry-export as the Peruvian Association of Exporters (ADEX) has announced that between January and July of this year, the Andean state exported four times the amount of blueberries it exported during the same period in 2013. Although the fruit is not a staple of Peruvian cuisine, a diversification of agricultural exports is always a positive development for any country.

The history of blueberries in Peru is both interesting and brief. The fruit was introduced to Peru in 2007 and by 2012 only some 300 hectares of blueberries were cultivated, according to a 2012 commentary in PortalFruticola.com. An October 2012 article in the website of the Peruvian radio station RPP explains that in that month, a blueberry parcel was installed in Pichupampa, a community located in the Sayán district, north of Lima. The parcel was one of 18 that Sierra Exportadora (a Peruvian company) was planting in order to foment the production of blueberries throughout the country.

Máximo Jiménez, a Sierra Exportadora expert on berries, explains that Peru’s climate allows it to grow blueberries year-round, which can help the Andean country beat other regional producers, namely Argentina and Chile, two states that produce less blueberries in September and October. Chile is currently South America’s foremost blueberry exporter, followed by Argentina and Uruguay, but Peru seems to be on the path of overtaking them.

In 2011, Peruvian blueberry exports totaled a pitiful US$84 thousand. However, production has exponentially grown as exports soared to over US$13 million in 2013; the berries were mostly exported to the U.S. and the Netherlands. Hence, it is no surprise that even in 2012 there were predictions that “Peru can become the leading exporter of berries (blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries) and cherries in the Southern Hemisphere.” It appears that this year Peru will surpass its 2013 milestone. According to ADEX, blueberry exports (namely of the gongapa and pushay varieties) from January to July of 2014 reached $5.6 million USD, an impressive 408% increase compared to the same period last year.

It is no surprise that more Peruvian farmers want to grow blueberries, given their high profitability; nowadays blueberry crops can be found in regions like Lima, La Libertad, and Ancash, among others. The renowned Peruvian daily El Comercio explained in a December 2013 article that more than 3,000 hectares are used to grow different types of berries and cherries (including blueberries) and this momentum will likely continue.

Nevertheless, it is not all good news for Peru’s agricultural sector. Currently there is an El Niño climate phenomenon, which has produced a drought causing disastrous consequences on the agricultural sectors of several Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, and parts of Colombia. As for Peru, Lima’s Chamber of Commerce announced this past April that agricultural exports will fall between two to four percent this year due to El Niño. Products that will particularly suffer from this weather phenomenon include asparagus, mango, avocado, and grapes. It is unclear if blueberries will suffer from El Niño; as previously mentioned, the production of these berries has actually increased in the first seven months of the year as compared to 2013, but this could certainly change if El Niño worsens in the final months of 2014.

While Peru continues to successfully export staple-goods like coffee, potatoes, and quinoa, the blueberry market has, in the span of only a couple of years, made an important niche for itself. Since Peru’s climate helps the growth of blueberries and export revenue has now reached over US$13 million, Lima would be well advised to support farmers who choose to grow them. Additionally, President Ollanta Humala must ensure that Peruvian blueberry farmers are protected from any adverse effects that El Niño may cause.

Blueberry consumption in the U.S. and Europe is growing, which means that these small berries could be the key to a golden future for Peru’s agricultural sector.

You can follow W. Alejandro Sanchez on his Geopolitics & Geosecurity blog and on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

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